PULL THE STRINGS, BEAT THE DHOLAK AND IT COMES TO LIFE!

Posted: October 31, 2011 in Interview, The NamoLeague Times
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(INTERVIEW WITH MAHIPAT KAVI – PUPPETEER, MANAGING TRUSTEE & HONORARY DIRECTOR – ‘PUPPETS &PLAYS’)

Mahipat Kavi – Dada as we fondly call him, is a storehouse of knowledge. I went to talk about puppetry with him with my book, pen and a set of questions: like all other journalists do. But soon, I had so much matter to listen that the writing part was sidelined! Mahipat Dada answers every question with a story, some also have the honor of Sanskrit Shlokas and Folk Songs. I knew him as a puppeteer, but he is a master storyteller as well. It makes you peep into yourself and your surroundings. Dada is a real inspiration to learn to live your life to the fullest and to romance with your art and work. Aditi Rindani.

How did puppetry start in Gujarat?

Puppetry is a Rajasthani art. It exists in Gujarat since thousands of years. But there is an interesting story behind the birth of modern puppetry in Gujarat, in around 1957-58. The art started from Shreyas School in Ahmedabad. Leenaben Mangaldas was the owner of the school. She was interested in educating the children through art.

Meherben Contractor was a portrait designer, whose two kids studied in that school. She had studied in England and saw puppetry as a means of education there. To implement the same in Gujarat, Leenaben sent her to study puppetry for three months in England.

Even today, Shreyas School organizes a Shreyas Mela every year that popularizes the culture and traditions of various states of India. Leenaben pioneered this insight of innovative methods of teaching children.

Since when, are you a part of puppetry?

I joined Meherben in puppetry since 1963 and worked with her for almost 15 years. Then, I started with my own organization called ‘Puppets and Plays’ in 1975. Also, I founded the Indian Puppet Academy in 1987 for training of teachers and children.

What made you join this field?

After completing my studies at the age of 19, my elders asked me to join the family business of clothing at Ranip. I denied the proposal as business involves being dishonest with customers. Back then, I had an urge to be at the service of the nation, so I joined Navjivan led by Gandhiji. After independence, the scenario changed. I joined the radio as a singer and further then, joined the Darpana Academy to learn Theatre in 1961-62. But then, I realized that my body structure was not suitable for a huge 40 feet stage!

During that time, Meherben had come to Darpana and showed the collection of foreign puppets to us. This was an interesting field and I made up my mind to work for puppetry.

What is the difference between traditional and modern puppetry?

About 22 small and big organizations work for puppetry in India. But the avenues for the use of puppetry in different fields are still unexplored. Puppets are widely used just for the sake of entertainment. It is not understood that there has to be a message for the society through this medium. There are no innovations in the traditional puppetry, may be because most of the puppeteers are not educated enough. However, plays related to religions and cultural beliefs are the most common shows with a message in India.

Puppetry is a field that should not be limited to any one subject or a class of people. Modern puppetry is all about innovations, which is yet not popularized in our country. On the other hand, traditional puppetry is a mirror of the traditions and cultures of that particular region. Each state has different subjects for their puppetry. Also, there are different stories for the origin of puppetry in different regions.

What is the story behind Gujarat’s puppetry?

Gujarat, as I mentioned, has followed puppetry of Rajasthan. The two states may have different geographies but they have shared culture and traditions.

Puppetry art in Rajasthan is called ‘Kathputli’ that was started by Kavi Kank who was the main poet in the kingdom of King Vikram in Ujjain. Kank used to ridicule all the new poets who came to the King. The poets were never satisfied and outraged by this, once a poet appeased the King and demanded that Kank should be ashamed of his acts. Kank was afraid of humiliation and he escaped to a village called Basi in Rajasthan. This village was known for the wooden statues made by the carpenters. Kank got a wooden head made and wrote the famous story of ‘Batris Putli’ based on this. In this way, the fantasy started and took the shape of puppetry.

Also, in Gujarat, there lived an alchemist named Pad Lipt Suri in Palitana. He was a Jain Sadhu who made robots and puppets for the spread of Jain culture.

How puppetry is important? In which sections can it be used?

I recently wrote a play titled ‘Gujarat Gaurav Gatha’ that talks about the progress of Gujarat. The play starts with the story of Lord Indra, Dadhichi Rushi and Vatrasur Rakshas. Then God Ram and God Krishna came. These were followed by Gandhiji and Narendra Modi. So be it stories like these or simply spread of awareness about Government policies, puppetry is an important medium. It is economical and equally enjoyed by the children and the old.

Apart from these, puppetry is also used in
– Children’s Education
– Mass Communication
– Education for the Disabled and Mentally Retarded
– Adult Education
– Entertainment for patients at the hospital
– Entertainment at hotels and restaurants
– Advertisements

Can you share a memorable incident related to puppetry?

One of the fields in which puppetry is used is for the education of the mentally retarded. There is a school for such children named Sharda near Ellis Bridge in Ahmedabad. Once while conducting a exhibition there, a boy saw a lady puppet and turned aggressive. He started screaming, crying and tore the entire puppet. When we inquired, we got to know that he hates his stepmother and took out all the frustration on the puppet, which resembled the face of that woman. The boy, after this incident, became normal! This was a miracle.

What is the difference between human drama and puppet drama?

Fantasy is the element that distinguishes the two of them. Puppet drama must have fantasy as the basic aspect. No human drama can be directly played through puppets, and if played, it will not be interesting. This is because puppets are different from human beings. So, a script has to be puppetized, just as a story is dramatized.

Do you think puppetry is a dying art?

No. Puppetry is changing its form. However, it is true that this art is not getting the importance it deserves. The modern society is too much inclined towards film and TV. Also, the people who knew this art have turned it into a business, a means to earn money. In olden days, there was no fee to see such arts! But today, everything is commercialized.

What should be done to save such arts?

Let me share a recent proposal. I have applied to the Central Government with a suggestion to start a residential school for such traditional arts. Students have to stay here and dedicate time for such arts.

There is no place for such art in today’s schools. Every school has an art teacher who teaches the student to draw a flower but never takes that student to a garden to see that flower, teach him not to pluck them and then ask him to draw. It is all about show off and modernization. But, what we forget is, man is born out of culture and if we lose the essence of culture, we are not human beings!

Read original article at: http://epaper.namoleague.com/EpaperArticle.aspx?title=PULL%20THE%20STRINGS,%20BEAT%20THE%20DHOLAK%20AND%20IT%20COMES%20TO%20LIFE!_473

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